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Billionaire blasts Africa's crop of aging leaders

JOHANNESBURG -- Sudanese-born billionaire Mo Ibrahim on Saturday castigated Africa's aging leaders for crowding out young blood.

The philanthropist said the average age of leaders on the African continent was around 60 years, yet half of the population was under the age of 19.

Speaking at a lecture in honor of South Africa's first black president Nelson Mandela, the businessman drew comparisons between African and American leaders.

“(Barack) Obama became president when he was 47 years old, actually Bill Clinton beat him, he became president when he was 46 years old.

“People in their 40s are being elected to run a country which is not only the greatest superpower, but has a GDP ... of 15-trillion dollars a year — 15 times the total economy of Africa.”

“And here we have somebody in a neighboring country, at 90 about to start a new term. What's wrong with us?” Ibrahim said, alluding to Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, who at 89 was last month re-elected in disputed polls that extended his 33-year rule by a fresh five-year term.

Ibrahim said that had Obama's father taken him back to Kenya when he was still a boy, “where would he be today? My guess, he would never (have) been president of Kenya.”

He urged Africa to create space for young people to help in running and developing the continent.

“That is the challenge we need to think of,” said Ibrahim, who is in his sixties.

Ibrahim also said South Africa should show the quality of leadership befitting the continent's wealthiest economy.

“We look up to you. We have a serious deficit. South Africa needs to step up and play a better role,” he said,

He added that leadership was not about having a seat on the U.N. Security Council or chairing the African Union (AU). South Africa's Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was last year elected chairwoman of the AU.

“This is the least equitable country in the whole world. After 20 years of independence (from apartheid rule), one can ask 'what is going on here?,'” said Ibrahim.

His foundation annually ranks African countries according to 88 indicators, and South Africa had improved in terms of rural development from 31 in 2000 to 22 last year.

That is a “marked” improvement, but “not fantastic,” he said.

The telecoms tycoon has set up the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership — the world's biggest individual prize — awarded to a democratically elected African leader who has served their mandated term and left office in the last three years.

Last year it was not awarded for a third time in four years as no suitable candidates were found.

Launched in 2006, it carries a US$5 million prize paid over 10 years and US$200,000 annually for life from then on, with a further US$200,000 per year available for 10 years for good causes backed by the winner.

The inaugural prize went to former President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique in 2007 and Botswana's ex-President Festus Mogae won in 2008.

Former Cape Verde President Pedro Pires won the 2011 prize.

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